Monday, November 12, 2012

Human Brochure - A day in the bush

I've been staring at a blank Blogger "compose post" screen for about twenty minutes now. I really don't want to write this post because it will mean that the Human Brochure weekend will finally, really be over for me.

(more time passes)

Alright, let's do this thing.

Another early (well, for a weekend anyway) start on Sunday morning was compensated by another delicious breakfast buffet in the dining room of the Mantra on Northbourne. Then back up to my penthouse (it's on the top floor, that counts, right?) suite to finish packing, and back downstairs to check out.

Checking out was simply a case of handing back the keycard and having the lovely staff say "That's fine, I hope you had a great stay." I wish I'd had a crack at the mini-bar!

While we were waiting for the right coach to arrive (there had been a mixup and we refused to leave without Roy!), the Mantra staff asked if we would mind having a group photo taken with a cardboard cutout of a tennis player. No, I don't know why either. Anyway, since everybody was gathered together, I jumped behind the counter and took a couple of shots. I wish I'd noticed that the shiny cardboard dude was right under a light! They're not great, but here are the photos with the most Adventure Humans that I was able to get together in the one place.



With that taken care of and the coach duly arrived (don't tell Roy, but we were actually waiting for the water and snacks that were on his coach), we set off for central ACT and the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.

This was our longest drive out of Canberra yet, but we were kept informed by our guides and by Tim the Yowie Man. And of course, by Roy the coach driver's insights into Canberra's design and infrastructure and his previously-mentioned terrible, terrible puns.

An aside on Tim the Yowie Man; I'm sure this guy knows about the ACT's outback, but it is really hard to take someone seriously when they self-identify as a "cryptonaturalist" and casually throw in tidbits about yowies and alien big cats. I'm sorry but I have no time for "woo" of any flavour.

Anyhoo. We arrived at the Tidbinbilla Visitor Centre and were given a brief introduction by the Manager. I have a lot of respect for this ranger's bush skills. He cunningly stood on the rock next to the one that the nesting crane above voluminously voided onto!



As the more intrepid Adventure Humans headed of for a hike to the Rock of Gibraltar, which, last I heard, was somewhere south of Spain, some of us took the easier option.

Our choice was an easy hike up the trail to Hanging Rock, which, last I heard, was somewhere in the Macedon Ranges in Victoria. What's going on with these place names?

Halfway up the trail we met with our first indigenous ranger guide. Although he was wearing the uniform of a ranger of the Parks and Conservation branch of the ACT Department of Territory and Municipal Services, he was also adorned with ochre markings on his face and his arms. Oh, and the traditional lip piercing of the Ngunnawal people. No, wait, he might have just got that in Fyshwick! The name "Tidbinbilla", we were told, was derived from the Ngunnawal word 'Jedbinbilla' - a place where boys were made men. A place of initiation. So, no relation to Fyshwick at all then.


Anyway, this gloriously adorned young man showed us how to make twine from local plants and told us how to use this to make a stone axe. He also gave us handy hints on how to make an adhesive and sealant from Grass Tree sap as well as a remedy for ant bites from the roots of ferns. There was also talk of bush tucker such as emu and kangaroo, but since this wasn't the Food & Wine stream, samples weren't on offer. Being Adventure stream Humans, I suppose we were expected to go and hunt our own.

Further up the trail we came to the "Hanging Rock" itself.

Now, remember when we went to the National Zoo and Aquarium and got to hug an emu? The keeper there actually asked if anyone was afraid of emus or other large birds.

Nobody here asked if anyone was afraid of being under a rock the size of a block of flats that looked like it was just about to topple on us! That's alright, we're Adventure stream Humans, we're tough.

Another Ngunnawal people ranger met us in the shelter that was Hanging Rock. This rock shelter was well known for many miles around the area as being able to provide protection from bad weather from all directions. Perhaps it wasn't completely coincidence that there was a comforting campfire crackling away when we arrived.

We were introduced to the hunting weapons of the Ngunnawal people, the boomerang and the spear as well as the lures involved in hunting, like the emu call.



The ochre that the guides are wearing is not something that they've picked up from their local film production studio. No, they've made it themselves from local clay. As it happened, some of our Adventure Humans also had experience of cultural use of ochre, and so details were exchanged.


It really is an impressive place. You can see out in many directions.


And you really are sheltered from all sides.

Hanging Rock

After that we returned to to the visitors' centre to wait for the more adventurous Adventure Humans.

While we were waiting, I noticed that there were some 'locals' hanging around.



I also noticed that even though this is a Sunday, the skies above our nation's capital were not quiet. Contrails from airliners were everywhere in the sky.


 No, I mean everywhere...


Obviously it is a busy place, and with such a concentrated airspace it is important that it be controlled by the best in the business.

Who would've guessed that was going to be Zorro, though?


After we'd all gathered, it was onto some minibuses for a trip to a settlement-era homestead where we had a barbecue lunch and then met some more locals.



Then there was boomerang and spear practice!

This is how you do it...

Got it?









And then, suddenly, sadly, it was over. Coach back to the hotel to drop off the local Humans and those who drove to Canberra. Then to the airport and back to Melbourne then to Bacchus Marsh.

Goodbye Canberra, goodbye ACT. It was a wonderful, surprising, amazing weekend. I had an absolute ball. I hope that with my many #HumanBrochure tweets and these little blog posts, I have been able to uphold my end of the bargain.

I'm sure it won't be another 40 years between visits!

Good light


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Human Brochure - An afternoon in the saddle

You know that analogy people use when you haven't done something for a long time and then you're going to try to do it again? "It's like riding a bike, it'll all come back to you", they say. Well as we left the car park at the National Zoo and Aquarium (see this post for more information), this saying was weighing rather heavily on my mind.

You see, the next stop for us Adventure stream Humans was at Stromlo Forest Park for an afternoon of mountain bike riding!

Like most kids, I grew up on bikes. I had a paper round back in the days when kids used to ride around with newspapers in sugar sacks on the back of their bikes and put the papers actually into the newspaper hole of your letterbox. Now some fat dude in a car drives past and throws a rolled up paper, which will never again lie flat, in the general direction of your house.

Later on, I used to ride road bikes, sometimes for quite long distances. It was nothing to ride from HMAS Cerberus to Blairgowrie on a Friday afternoon and back on Sunday afternoon. Many years later, I rode from Ballarat to Horsham, although it did take me three days and I caught the bus back!

So I was moderately confident that the skills would come back, what I was more worried about was my age, weight and lack of fitness. Luckily we had already been asked to declare whether we wanted to be in the "Beginner", "Intermediate", or "Advanced" levels. Bravely I clicked "Beginner".

The first thing you notice when you arrive at Stromlo Forest Park is that there is no forest. There are hardly any trees at all. Well there used to be until the devastating bushfires of 2003 tore through the area. There is a memorial area in the park and that is one of the first places our little "Beginners" group stopped once we started our ride.

This wall is made from bricks from some of the roughly 500 homes that were destroyed during the fires.

Our mountain biking guides in the memorial park proper.

Amy (@badskirt) admires one of the photo-poles in the memorial pond area.

Amanda approaching the same area.

I'm sure you will understand that riding a mountain bike is not exactly an activity suited to taking photographs. I did have the smaller of my two DSLRs, the Nikon D5000 with a 35mm lens (50mm equivalent), on my Spider holster, but most of the time I had my hands full just staying upright!

I did manage to get this one of our "Leader", Peter (the other guide came behind to make sure we stayed together and was called the "Sweeper"), going over one of the many fun obstacles that are spread around the mountain biking trails.

I would have given this a shot, at least this particular one which is the lowest and widest of the three see-saws. The other two got both higher and narrower! Sadly, because of our beginner status, we weren't permitted to risk it. Probably for the best!

In an area of the park called "The Playground" there were a series of raised bridge-type obstacles, one of which we tackled. A little further along were a series of metre-deep corrugations, which we also learned how to traverse. The guides, both expert, professional mountain bike riders were excellent at teaching and demonstrating proper techniques. There's more to this than meets the eye, you know.

When we got back to the mustering area, oh all right, the parking lot, we found that a demonstration of BMX riding had started in the BMX area. Well, where else? I have long wanted to try photographing this sport and if I had known, I would have brought along a speedlight for some fill. In the end I had to use the built in flash on my camera. Please don't tell David Hobby.



Particularly happy with that last one.

Then it was time for a late lunch, so we jumped back on Roy's coach and headed to Scope, a restaurant in the grounds of the Mount Stromlo observatory.

Course after course of delicious food appeared and was duly appreciated, washed down with some much needed chilled beverages. I'm afraid though, that if you want pictures of food that I haven't myself cooked, you've come to the wrong blog. I suggest you check out the Adventure stream of the Human Brochure website.

Wined and dined (again! I don't know how much better the Food & Wine Humans were treated in this area, but we Adventurers certainly didn't miss out on great food and wines, much of it locally sourced), I headed out to take in the view and to shoot a few photographs.

The view was pretty good!


There really is an observatory, several actually.

And it may just be that Banksy had visited at some time!
Ok, maybe not Banksy. I like this piece; if you know who is responsible, please drop a note in the comments.

There was an analemmatic sundial!
Which I kind of ruined for you by being artsy and lying down to shoot it. Here's a more informative picture from ArchivesACT's flickerstream.

Then it was back to the hotel for a soak in a hot bath before heading out to dinner at Soju Girl restaurant and bar.

Sadly, this didn't work well for me. And it's my problem, not anything to do with the Human Brochure team, the Soju Girl staff or the other participants. First of all, I was more worn out than I thought from the mountain biking. I was fair dinkum pooped out. Secondly, 'social' on social media doesn't necessarily equate to 'social' in real life and I'm afraid that I'm not. I also know it's accepted these days to instagram and tweet pictures of food before you eat it and to spend the meal paying more attention to your smartphone than your fellow diners, but that's not what I'm used to. Oh and see that "and bar" at the end of the venue's name? Well imagine a bar in the heart of Canberra on a lovely warm Saturday night. Throw in at least one hen's party. The food was magnificent but the place was far too loud for me to consider it fine dining.

I left early, walked back to the hotel and crashed. Crashed hard!

I'm sure I missed a great night, but at least I recovered enough from a good night's sleep to be up bright and early for the final day's adventuring. Which will be the subject of the next post.

(Oh, and I didn't have to spend the night in a police lockup either. But that's another story and not mine to be telling!)

Good light,


ps Again, if you are in any of my photos and you'd like a copy to print for your own personal use, drop me a comment or DM your email address to @justjimwilldo on Twitter and I'll re-process it for you in a printable format and without the copyright notice.

Also, if you have any photos of me bravely adventuring around Canberra, I'd appreciate it if you could let me have a link to where I could see them.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Human Brochure - A morning at the zoo

All the Adventure stream Humans were up bright and early on Saturday morning. Well, early anyway. Some Humans were perhaps just a little less than 'bright' after some extracurricular research into Canberra's nightlife as detailed in my earlier post, Human Brochure - And so it begins… Yes, Craig, I'm looking at you!

After partaking, some more, some less, of the tasty breakfast buffet at the Mantra on Northbourne, we gathered once more in the lobby for our coach ride to the National Zoo and Aquarium.

Coaches and drivers were provided by Murrays and we must have lucked out because we were assigned one of their best drivers. Roy was a font of local knowledge, tourism information and really, really bad puns!

As we were getting onto the bus, I managed to grab a couple of photos and these will lead me into what I think was one of the few failings of the organisation of the weekend.



In the lead-up to the Human Brochure weekend, a balloon ride was talked about for the adventure stream but when the itinerary was finalised there was no mention of such a thing. I admit that I was disappointed since I was really looking forward to such an adventure, but I accepted the explanation that there simply wasn't enough hot air balloons in Canberra for all of us.

Then I started to notice what, in my previous profession, we would call "internet chatter" indicating that some Humans were still expecting a ride in a balloon. The retired intelligence collector and analyst in me couldn't let this go and it turned out that there was a secret cabal (not really, but it sounds good) of VIP Humans who were getting even better treatment than the rest of us. And we were being treated mighty fine, thank you.

The eventual explanation of this was that these were people with social media influence greater than the average Human. Now, given that the 'average' Human selected for this weekend had been reported as having a social media reach forty-five times greater than the average (lower case) human, these people must be as gods to us mere tweeters.

And I'm absolutely fine with that.

It totally makes sense that if you have events with limited capacity, that you would utilise them where they would do you the most good. 'Good' in this case being in terms of social media reach. It was the crude attempt at secrecy that rankled with me and, I believe, with my fellow Humans. I hope that Canberra Tourism takes this on board and is more open with the Humans on the February weekend. The cat is well and truly out of the bag in any case.


Anyhoo. To the zoo! I should note that it is 8:00 in the morning. The the first sign we see as we get off the coach says that the zoo doesn't open until 10:00. Something may have gone horribly wrong. But no! The zoo is opening, exclusively for us Humans, two hours earlier than normal. How good is that?

The National Zoo and Aquarium is, surprisingly, not an enterprise of the ACT Government. I am used to zoos being part of a statutory authority like Zoos Victoria, which runs the three main wildlife ventures in my home state. The National Zoo and Aquarium is a family owned business.

Now I admit that when I first heard this from the Manager as we gathered just inside the front entrance, I was a little worried. Let me explain…

As a photographer who likes to take pictures of animals, and as an animal lover, I find myself conflicted about zoos in general and inner-city zoos in particular. If you add in the concept of a private business trying to make a profit out of their venture, well, this could be bad, very bad.

I remember the 'very bad' from visiting Melbourne Zoo in Royal Park as a teenager some forty years ago. It was a sad place with bored animals in small wrought iron cages and bare concrete enclosures. These days it is a much happier place to visit with much larger, more natural seeming enclosures and two other facilities, the Werribee Open Range Zoo and the Healesville Sanctuary where some animals can be "swapped out" to allow them to de-stress.

This zoo seems to fit into the middle of that range. The enclosures are reasonably spacious and contain enough animals that they can be sociable, but they are not overcrowded. They are safe for the animals (and visitors) and contain both natural and man-made environments to ensure that the animals are sheltered and amused. I also heard from one of the keepers that more land has been sourced and the zoo is shortly to grow from the current 7 hectares to more than 60 hectares. That second figure is subject to my fallible memory and if it is wrong, it is my fault, not the zoo's.

Anyway, after a brief introduction, we were split up into groups. The idea was that each group would have one of the zoo's animal encounter experiences and then be free to wander the rest of the zoo at will.

I got put in a group of twelve, which I immediately thought would rule out being in the group that would get, to my mind, the premier experience. But no! We were going to meet a cheetah. Not only meet her, but if she was in a good mood, we might even be able to pet her. This was going to be good. All zoos have to protect their animals from idiot humans (lower case) with sticks and inappropriate food, etc. They also have to protect the Humans from animals that bite and scratch. Some zoos have come up with excellent methods of doing both and still allowing good viewing and photography. The ultimate way of getting a good view and, of course, a good photograph, is to get into the enclosure with the animal. Needless to say, this doesn't happen very often.

Our brave dozen were further split into three groups of four. While the first group went to meet the cheetah, the rest of us were guided around other nearby exhibits. We feed treats to some clever lemurs and met an emu who likes hugs.



No, I mean he seriously likes hugs!





Humans like hugs too.


After a while the first Humans came out of the cheetah enclosure, grinning like fools for some reason, and I went in as part of the second group. We got a quick but reassuring safety talk and then in we went. Without further ado, I give you Shasa the cheetah, representative of the fastest land animal on the planet.


And, to be honest, a neck scritch loving, loud purring, kitteh!





Then it was time for a tummy rub, which is a job for professionals. Note the non-retractable claws (unusual in a feline) which are mostly used as running spikes. Where the keeper is pointing though, is the killer weapon, the razor-sharp dew claw which is used to hamstring fleeing antelope and bring them down for dinner. Maybe not just a kitteh, then.


More information on my new friend Acinonyx jubatus from the ever-reliable Wikipedia.

Grinning like a fool (I see where the earlier Humans got it from now), I went for a wander using the handy map the staff provided.

Just one more photo. If you click on this or any of the other photos, you can see more of my shots from the zoo.


Oh, just one more then.


All too soon, our time was up and it was on to new adventures. That will be the subject of the next post.

Good light,


ps If you have any photos of me petting Shasa or hugging an emu, would you be so kind as to leave a comment with a link to where I can see them. Also if you are in any of my photos and would like to get a copy for yourself, leave a comment and I'll send you a version without the copyright watermark.